Saturday, September 26, 2020

(Or, Everything You Wanted to Know About eBART, but Were Afraid to Ask.) Part 2.

 

Before you settle down to read Part 2 of the eBART story, be sure you read Part 1. It’s a charming story about how BART grew up to be what it is today. Don’t miss it!

Now on with the rest of our story…

 

The “Railroad Avenue eBART Specific Plan”

OK, so that’s a mouthful, let’s take a look at what it means…The plan to bring eBART to Railroad Avenue was hatched several years ago when the City of Pittsburg discovered that BART deemed the location to be unfit for a station. Besides, BART argued, Pittsburg already had a full-fledged station at Pittsburg/Bay Point with acres of glorious parking and, until 2012, a plan to build a dynamic transit village surrounding it.

The original purpose of the Pittsburg Railroad Specific Plan was to change BART’s mind. The City of Pittsburg would build the required housing and infrastructure within a 1/2 mile radius of Highway 4, and would include high-density housing, parking garages, and what they called a ‘Multimodal Transfer Facility’, aka a ‘Kiss & Ride.’ This plan was a critical tool in convincing BART management to build a second, ‘in-fill’ station here in town and the City knew it would be an uphill battle. Without the guarantee of a minimum ridership, BART had no financial incentive for building a second station for Pittsburg and was more than content to simply extend the line through to the new Antioch station, bypassing the Railroad Avenue location completely. But the City of PIttsburg did not intend to let that happen and the “Railroad Avenue eBART Specific Plan” was hatched. Interestingly, the name of the plan was quietly changed to “Railroad Avenue Specific Plan” – perhaps to make it less obvious that it was created to attract eBART.

But the plan failed. Despite the City’s best efforts, BART chose to not build a second station in Pittsburg and it became clear that if another station was required at Railroad Avenue, the City would have to fund it.

And so they did. City of Pittsburg staff went to work finding ways to pay for the new eBART, all the while promoting the plan to taxpayers. Here’s what they promised:

 

  • Promise: Pittsburg would finally be getting a BART station!
  • Reality: There’s been one here for 15 years…

 

  • Promise: The central location of the new station would benefit everyone on Railroad Avenue.
  • Reality: Railroad Avenue is already a traffic nightmare…

 

  • Promise: Hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens would walk to the new BART station.
  • Reality: Few, if any, riders will ONLY go to BART. Most people will still drive so they can combine trips around town…

 

  • Promise: A new Railroad Bus Shuttle Service would make it easy for people to get to BART from nearly everywhere!
  • Reality: More buses on Railroad means more traffic! Can anyone say  “S  L  O  W ?”…

 

And so the gentle people of Pittsburg were “sold” on the idea of a BART station on Railroad Avenue.

 

 

eBART What?

But what was quietly and conveniently left out of many conversations with the public was that Railroad Avenue would not have the kind of BART station people were accustomed to. In fact, the new stations in Pittsburg and Antioch would be part of a new, experimental BART transit system: “eBART”.

This completely new train line is not compatible with existing BART systems and is intended only as a “feeder” to the regular BART system. It’s a grand experiment in which BART uses the people of Pittsburg and Antioch as guinea pigs, with the hopes that this light-rail system would be embraced in the far-flung suburbs without the population to warrant a full BART system. This new “BART-Light” would be dubbed “eBART”.

 

Hmmm…Let’s take a look at some interesting, but rather disturbing, facts about the new eBART system:

 

  • The trains are diesel, not electric like the normal BART system.
  • Because they’re diesel, there’s no “third-rail” electric power
  • The gauge of the train tracks is incompatible with the normal BART system.
  • Because they’re a different gauge, separate maintenance equipment is required for eBART tracks.
  • The individual train cars are smaller and can carry fewer riders than the normal BART system.
  • Initially, there will be two stations, Pittsburg and Antioch.
  • There will also be a “hidden” transfer station between the Pittsburg/Bay Point station and the Pittsburg eBART station that can only be accessed via train.
  • When the line opens there will be NO parking lot at the Pittsburg eBART station. Riders will use the existing Park & Ride on Bliss Avenue and will face a lengthy walk to the station entrance.
  • The majority of riders will be expected to walk, bike, take a bus, or be dropped off at the “Kiss & Ride” area.
  • Although originally designed with two entrances, the new station will have only one entrance, forcing all foot, wheelchair and bicycle traffic to use the single entrance.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station has no escalator.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station has only one staircase.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station has one sole elevator.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station has no station agent.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station has no restroom.
  • The Pittsburg eBART station platform and the transfer platform have minimal protection from the elements with only a narrow overhead cover and no wind protection.
  • The current Park & Ride on Bliss Avenue is to be expanded slightly to accommodate more cars. However, 100% of the Park & Ride parking is a further walk away from the station than any of the parking at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station.

 

Multimodal Traffic

Part of the new “Railroad Avenue Specific Plan” includes an area known as the “Multimodal Transfer Facility.” It’s what we call the “Kiss & Ride.”

Essentially a small area in which to drop off or pick up riders, the Kiss & Ride also provides an area for cyclists to safely lock their bikes. While it’s true that all BART Kiss & Ride areas hum with cars, buses and taxis jostling for space, most other stations also offer parking. Not so with the Pittsburg eBART Kiss & Ride which will have no parking lot to buffer it from the surrounding area. And this omission will cause traffic to back up onto Railroad Avenue from both directions as cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians all crowd the tiny drop off point, trying to get as close to the station as possible.

Despite Pittsburg City officials stating on the record that they expect eBART riders not to bring their cars to the Railroad Avenue station, the Multimodal Transfer Facility is a fraction of the size required to successfully manage the new flow of traffic. We can see this from the Kiss & Ride plans, the fact that everyone will have to share a single traffic lane in entering and exiting the facility, and from the lack of a buffer zone to protect the regular traffic flow the eBART station during peak hours.

 

K&R Map

 

 

The location and design of the Kiss & Ride, on the Northeast corner of Railroad Avenue and California Street, are guaranteed to worsen the already terrible traffic in the Railroad/Hwy 4 area. The added congestion caused by more buses, taxis, pedestrians, bicycles, and passenger cars will cause a gridlock even worse than what we’re already accustomed to.

Traffic studies from 2009 indicated that the Railroad Avenue/California Street/Hwy 4 WB onramp intersections (that is, the main intersections affected by the eBART Kiss & Ride) received ‘C – F’ ratings during the commute hours studied. The average grade for the study that covers the roadway in question is ‘E’ for Northbound traffic and ‘C’ for Southbound traffic.  The City of Pittsburg considers an ‘E’ rating acceptable for any intersection.

However, today’s traffic congestion reality at this, and other Railroad Avenue intersections, is more like a ‘F’ rating for the thousands who navigate the area during peak hours, many of which were not included in 2009 traffic study. This study, completed over seven years ago and based on old data, is not representative of the Railroad traffic corridor today and cannot be relied upon as a basis for traffic estimates going forward.

 

The Future

The future of Railroad Avenue surrounding the impending eBART station is bleak. Poor planning on the part of City management combined with dramatic increases in housing guarantees that the Railroad Civic Center area will become a barrier to the citizens of Pittsburg trying to access the freeway and to make it alive across town. Attracting a huge volume of cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians to such a small area will assure gridlock for most of the day – a gridlock that’s already evident even before the eBART station and Kiss & Ride arrive.

A lack of critical traffic infrastructure to support the anticipated demand, coupled with no plan to improve the traffic flow, will devastate the cross-town traffic flow on Railroad Avenue and force cars onto alternate routes adding more congestion to other parts of town.

 

The Solution?

The upcoming Railroad Avenue eBART station is already under construction and the adjacent Kiss & Ride drop-off area is in the planning stage. However, the City of Pittsburg still has many options to mitigate future traffic congestion and avoid exacerbating the traffic issues that currently plague the area and will only get worse. The “Railroad Specific Plan” outlines the development of hundreds of housing units, shops, business offices, and parking areas to be developed over many years. And these buildings will contain thousands of people. But still the “Railroad Specific Plan” contains no meaningful plans to manage the inevitable gridlock that these folks will cause.

Developing and implementing a serious, aggressive traffic mitigation plan for the next two decades is critical not only for the eBART area, but all of Railroad Avenue. These plans must include the full redesign of the Kiss & Ride, adding features like pedestrian bridges, lengthening turn lanes, and routing bus traffic away from the most congested parts of Railroad Avenue.

 

~ K.S.

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